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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The night air is cold and your breath hangs, a web in the blackness. Your heart races, threatening to burst as something draws near, just over your shoulder. You close your eyes as it creeps behind you, opening its mouth to strike.

But you’re exhausted from running, and maybe if you just stopped, blissful oblivion will take over. Maybe zombification isn’t so bad.

A year like no other

The challenges this year have exponentially added to the stressors from overwork, revamping volunteer programs, and onboarding an influx of new volunteers while retaining furloughed volunteers.

Being zombified means through stressors, you’ve lost your vitality, your human essence. You’ve lost you. It’s a very real phenomena in everyday volunteer manager lives and especially now, with the added stressors.

Stessors that zombify us

  • feeling underappreciated
  • feeling targeted
  • feeling like nothing ever changes
  • feeling like no one understands
  • feeling that it’s all for nothing
  • feeling like everyone is quick to criticize or give advice
  • feeling like everyday is the same
  • feeling like control is slipping away

Zombification is just so….dead

Zombified managers (and you’ve experienced one, right?) shuffle through the day, avoiding anything that takes energy because they have none to spare. When we, leaders of volunteers become zombified, what happens? (and trust me, I’ve become zombified at times, until a caring co-worker or volunteer bashed me in the head and work me up)

  • volunteers don’t get the inspiration they seek or are used to getting
  • difficult conversations with volunteers go unsaid and problems fester until they become full-blown
  • volunteer programs wither
  • the people we serve don’t receive the volunteer help that might have made all the difference to them
  • volunteers go elsewhere or fade away
  • potential is lost
  • and sadly, the joy a volunteer manager receives from being a volunteer manager dies

The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection

George Orwell

We are not perfect and these times are far from perfect. When things look bleak or never-ending, it’s understandable to want to curl up in a ball and mentally detach. We’re not immune to our own feelings. We swim in feelings, whether it be volunteers’, clients’, staff or friends and family all day long.

Anti-zombification repellant spray

Remember, you cannot be perfect, because you’d lose your humanity if you were perfect and volunteers need your imperfect, caring self. What can you do when feeling zombified? Here’s some things, for better or worse, that I’ve used when I realized I was just shuffling through the day, a drop of spit hanging from my slack mouth.

  • watch the funniest movie or stand up comedy you can find and then, when you’re still giggling, start to think of the maddening things that weigh on your mind. Mentally insert those things into the funny movie and make them funny. Write yourself into the scene. See the things that bring you down in a different light.
  • Grab your best-est friend, co-worker or relative and dare each other to do something outrageous. The thrill of the dare can often break feelings of drudgery. My family does this all the time to each other. These episodes become some of our best memories and make us laugh.
  • Read or watch the saddest thing you can find. Cry, feel horrible and then go wallow in all the rotten feelings you’ve been experiencing. Get it out. Take each rotten feeling, turn it over in your head and then think about the sad movie or story you’ve watched/read. How did the person in that movie/book deal with their challenge? Find inspiration in the strength of others.

 When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

Fred Rogers

Stress can easily zombify us when feelings of not being in control overtake us. But we know our volunteers look to us to lead and inspire them. They believe in us. We can, too.

Volunteers don’t want perfect, robotic leaders. And sometimes, zombification comes when the desire to do everything perfectly meets the reality that we are imperfect creatures.

Volunteers want imperfect us

Volunteers want you, imperfect you, and all your quirky sayings, your crazy ideas, your funny habits. They want the way your nose wrinkles up when you hear that a staff member didn’t say hi to a volunteer. They want the way your brow knits in thought when you’re plotting a way to involve them in a new program. They want your voice raised an octave when excited about an upcoming meeting. They want that hastily made poster that says thank you in sloppy script.

Volunteers want your human self.